Jack Crane on Violence and America.

Friend, fellow Massachusetts native and regular commenter Jack Crane has worked on Chicago’s South Side for many years.  Here’s what he had to say in response to my post about Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz’s new film, The Interrupters:

Yo Jeff, I figured you and the Mrs. were drunk on emptynesterhood and hiding out in some Maine cabin for the rest of the summer! :-)

I just got back from a week in the Door County woods with the grandsons and son. Rested, and feeling good about living on a s’more diet and camp songs, why did I read your blog about the Interrupters this morning! :-/ Well, one way of getting right back to the work front!

I was recently at a South Side community activists meeting to discuss ways to attract more retail business in the Bronzeville neighborhood. I stated flat out that we needed to address the yes, epidemic, violence in the neighborhood. Several colleagues countered me by talking about the need to distinguish between “perceived” violence and actual violence. As soon as I heard the word perceived, I loosened my tie and tongue. “Would anybody in this room walk down 47th Street from the Dan Ryan to Lake Park Ave and not fear for their life?,” I asked. There was a long, silent pause in the room. “If there is a murder in Evanston, which certainly has gang issues, the entire community is all over the tragedy. Why do we state ‘perceived” violence, when kids are in fact shooting, robbing and killing each other almost daily on the South Side? Why do we tolerate even one shooting?”

Having spent my career working in Chicago’s South Side, and currently housed in the most violent police beat, I must say I am deeply discouraged by what I perceive as the complete abandonment of low income, minority neighborhoods by the mostly white, affluent power brokers. Sure, there is a steady handful of courageous community activists, including the CeaseFire trio in the documentary, doing amazing work – but most eventually burn out as the chaos breaks down their hearts and souls.

My own hunch is that not a few charismatic nuts will soon organize the growing disenfranchised, and horrific violence will be pitched in the manicured North Shore lawns. The pot is well beyond the boiling point (7 teens arrested last night for mob action, robbery and beating and 18 year old in Chinatown) in my estimation.

To end on a positive note, there are not a few activists, mostly quite young, who recognize that despite President Obama’s good nature and intelligence, he is very much a part of an America which no longer makes any common sense really. So they are turning in new directions, exploring alternative ways to discover and create beauty, justice, compassion. They give me much hope, and I enjoy breathing in their refreshing breeze.


I’d love to hear your thoughts about any number of the points that Jack raises. 
Is there a meaningful difference between “perceived” and actual violence? Is Jack right that lower-income neighborhoods have been abandoned and that the residents will be coming for their affluent contemporaries?  What about the young and not-yet-burned out activists?
As always, questions, comments and disagreements are welcome.

8 responses to “Jack Crane on Violence and America.

  1. I think there is a difference between real and perceived violence. I heartily agree with Jack that one shooting is too much and that if it happened in other communities–such as mine north of Boston where there have been I believe none in my 20 years there–the community and authorities would be all over it. “Another murder in the city” has become maddeningly routine, but it is maddeningly wrong. That being said, exaggeration of what actually happens is not helpful. I’ve done an activity with my class in Boston where I ask the kids how often people get murdered there. “Every day! Every minute!” Well, depending on the year, it is more like once a week here (I know much more in Chicago). Horrific, but not the same. Many young people get killed, but not “all of us.” Misperception can be crippling, can lead to fatalism. The perception gets the most warped outside the city. Life goes on, people go to work, school, etc. amid the danger (as Jack referred to about 47th St.). The violence is perpetuated by a minority. It’s not that “those people” don’t care about life and are all wild and crazy. People will respond to hearing where I work with, “Really?!?” as though I take my life in my hands everyday. Appreciating that not all is lost, that most people everywhere are against violence aides in understanding that not only must the epidemic of murder be ended but that it can.

  2. I forgot to note: Jack, I think I get your well-aimed point about reluctance to be forthright about the problem. Perceived violence–exaggeration–is a problem for businesses, but it would not be there if there wasn’t already the real thing. It’s not just that outsiders don’t necessarily get what is going on. I’m curious what went on next in the meeting. I hope that your comments in the end assisted in clear-headed addressing of the challenges.

  3. Dave, I think I understand where you are coming from with the “perceived violence” issue, as activists (like yours truly) we often have to defend neighborhoods from ignorant, often racist, views of inner city neighborhoods, as in: “there is a shoot out on every corner” kind of perspective. The vast majority of South Side residents are repulsed by all the violence, and care deeply about improving their lives and the community. Unfortunately, the “actual” violence on Chicago’s South Side has become extreme over the past 18 months. Last summer 3 Chicago Police officers were murdered in my working neighborhood: One a recently returned Iraq veteran who was murdered as thugs tried to rob his motorcycle in front of his house; another was murdered as he came home after a night shift protecting the mayor; and the third was murdered by a deranged guy in a police parking lot. And just yesterday afternoon, a 14 year old boy was assassinated on the West Side. This evening a man in his 40’s murdered in the same neighborhood.

    So when the developers, investors, activists, city officials conjure up a meeting of the minds to figure out how to attract a creative commercial business strip on the South Side without addressing the issue of primarily gang-on-gang violence (and their innocent bystanders), I just want to vomit. Probably less than 5% of “the players” actual live in the neighborhood they are trying to improve. The encouraging news over the past 10 years in the Bronzeville neighborhood in particular is the dynamic, creative and dare I say courageous Black new wealth that came back to the hood with their Ivy League degrees, spouses and kids to buy and rehab many beautiful, vintage Chicago homes. These pioneers long for better commercial enterprises, but the prolonged recession has crashed a lot of hopes here. In addition, the growing consensus is that the South Side is going to have to attract a multi-ethic constituency to fill the vast wastelands of vacant lots before any major commercial businesses will risk their capital, etc. Ignoring the actual war going on in this same neighborhood will only prolong the stagnation in my opinion.

    The day Rachel Maddow opens her news program with the story of a 14 year old kid being assassinated in our neighborhood, instead of more baloney about Republican Presidential candidates, will be a welcome turn of events from this corner.

    Peace to you and yours,


  4. Jack, who could contest your powerful, informed comments? Your suggestion at the end is wonderful. Why shouldn’t she do that? Wouldn’t a national news programs’ leading with such a story be a way to start getting the issue on the agenda? It seems unimaginable, though, but then isn’t that another reason to want to vomit? I share your feeling often. Don’t these lives matter? Do we–the nation–care? How can we not and still think of ourselves as having good values? Extreme actual violence, a war, indeed, in our own cities, with courageous people, as you referenced, putting themselves on the line with no fanfare, but with barely any support compared to what we’ve invested in Iraq and Afghanistan. I wish you strength in your work and best to you and your family.

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      I LOVE this dialogue!! Might the two of you either want to be regular contributors here and/or set up your own spaces?


  5. Hello All:

    Thanks to Jeff, Jack and Dave for this interesting and powerful conversation. As a resident of the South Side I have witnessed first hand the devastating effect of the violence, structural neglect and the daily rigors of living in the community. I want it to improve and have thought a lot about this. I do agree that the violence impacts everyone and needs to be addressed and I also agree with Jack’s point that a multi-ethnic solution should be found. My impression is the isolation, poverty and structural and economic barriers keep many of the kids from believing that there is a better life out there for them and realistically, once involved in the prison system that’s true. It’s a very tough sell to young people that there is something beyond the borders of their block, of their hood and of their community. That is their world. I think that the key is changing people’s mindset through being exposed to other ways of thinking and acting and that can be enhanced through having further contact within the community to other cultures. This happens rarely on the South Side and for that matter in Lemont, Illinois. The segregation stunts the growth of our many people in our country. I believe we need to find a way to bring people together.

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Jon, for this thoughtful addition to the conversation.

      I look forward to catching up with you tomorrow.

      Peace and love,


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